What makes a strong tagline?

Taglines may be the second most important branding element. Names are certainly first, but taglines can play an important role in conveying the brand message.

Most taglines, however, do not enhance the brand. They are afterthoughts. Names and logos and trade dress usually precede tagline. They are usually done by an ad agency as an element in an advertising campaign, and are advertising slogans rather than integral elements of the respective brands.

The difference between a tagline and a slogan

I’ve subjectively defined tagline and slogan as two different beasts with different objectives. The tagline carries the brand’s message and is part of the whole life-cycle of the brand itself. It is integral to the brand.

The slogan on the other hand, is a tactical “pay off” of an ad campaign. Its purpose is to help consumers remember the advertising message.

There will be a lot of people who disagree with me – they’ll suggest they are the same thing and that I’m just playing a semantic game. Okay, but I’ll stick with the definitions above because it makes explanations a little easier.

This difference between a tagline and a slogan for purposes of branding, then, is very simple. The tagline is a crystallization of a brand promise and is a strategic-based element. The slogan, is an advertising element just as a headline or illustration. In the case of a corporate identity ad program the tagline and the slogan can and should be the same.

But my experience concerning an agency-created tagline is that its life is just as long as the campaign it was created for, not for the life of the brand.

Positioning statement vs tagline

There may be some confusion about the difference between a positioning statement and a tagline as well. Again, this is my interpretation and opinion about them. Some will believe they’ve created a positioning statement with the finalization of a tagline. I don’t. For me they are two entirely different, though related, branding components.

The positioning statement is usually longer and more detailed than a tagline. It will quite often borrow from the mission statement, the value statement, the vision statement if it is a corporate brand. It is primarily an internal document but certainly not a confidential one. In fact, it is beneficial to espouse a positioning statement in the business lobby, in the annual report, as part of a proposal. It is an integral part of the brand platform, and drives the direction of the creative process when developing brand elements – name, tagline, logo, graphic standards, trade dress, brand messaging and packaging. It is possible for some positioning statements to be voiced as a tagline as well, but this will be a rare occurance.

So, the positioning statement precedes the development of brand elements and is usually a paragraph in length rather than a short phrase. The tagline crystallizes and furthers the brand story or promise and is usually connected to the name and logo as part of the company/product identification.

First things first: is a tagline needed?

Even though I’ve stated I believe the tagline to be the second most important branding element, often a brand may not even need a tagline. So the first question in the tagline development process: is there a need for a tagline in the branding element mix. A tagline may be superfluous. And on rare occasions, the name itself can function as name and tagline because the name communicates all there is to communicate in differentiating brand and suggesting a consumer benefit. So why guild the lily by making the same point using different words?

There are times, too, when a descriptive phrase is more appropriate. This is especially true with a product establishing a new category. In this case, you wish to “own” the category by being and remaining first in top of mind, for as long as the category exists. This description replaces the tagline as branding catalyst.

And finally, if you’re branding a feature or a brand extension, you’ll probably omit a tagline as being in conflict with the master brand and its tagline.

Criteria for a strong tagline

In my last post I pointed out three things to avoid when creating taglines, along with another two additional points about taglines. To reiterate, those five things, translated into evaluation criteria are:

Make an incredible (read unbelievable)claim (don’t)
Write a self-serving tagline (don’t)
Create a platitude (don’t)
Differentiate you from competitors (do)
Integrate with other brand elements smoothly (do)

To these five criteria I would add:

Make tagline instantly understandable. Many taglines are cute turns of words which you must think about in order for them to make an impact. (Here’s where a universal metaphor or meme can be quite powerful.)

Make the tagline enhance the main brand idea. If the tagline just restates the “big idea” already conveyed through name and/or logo, it is redundant. The tagline should support and extend the brand promise or theme, not just repeat it in different words.

Make the tagline communicate a major benefit of doing business with the company or of buying the product/service. (But be sure you’re creditable.)

It should appeal to the targeted audience. By that I mean use their language to convey the thing your product or service does for them specifically. It is sometimes advisable to call out the audience by name in the tagline.

Keep it short: seven significant words or less.

As an example, here is a pretty good tagline – it’s the one I use for my branding consultancy, Signature Strategies. Helping smaller companies profit from the power of branding.

If you’re looking for help with your tagline, or any and all parts of the branding process, why not contact me. Just click to go on over to Signature Strategies, or give me a call at 303-242-5975.

8 thoughts on “What makes a strong tagline?

  1. Great stuff. I agree that so often taglines and slogans are developed as an afterthought to the brand identity elements, rather than a vital piece of the brand puzzle.

  2. Terrific post. A good tagline should be clear and easy to understand. I particularly liked that you made a clear differentiation between the tagline and the slogan. Thanks.

  3. take a look at the new Dell tagline for an example of tedium. When crafting a tagline I’d thought they’d have followed the concepts that are time tested as put forth by the author.

  4. I agree with you: this stuff is often badly understood and if executed as an afterthought, can be actively detrimental.

    There are at least 3 “levels” of these kinds of expression

    1) An encapsulation of the brand essence. For example, Nike’s “Just do it”. I think of those kinds of expressions, because they are unique identifying marks, as brand signatures (and they are rare).

    2) An expression which brings out a specific benefit or attribute, but does not reflect the heart of the positioning. These might last a long time, or be used more short term – depending on the brand’s need. For example, Esso’s “Put a tiger in your tank”. The word slogan is derived from a Gaelic expression “sluagh-ghairm”, meaning battle cry, and battle cries are all about a competitive sense of superiority, so it seems fair to call these brand slogans.

    3) Memorable (but potentially meaningless) phrases. For example, “The man from Del Monte says yes”. Tagline, according to dictionary.com, means simply “a phrase or catchword that becomes associated with a product, through repetition”, so I call these brand taglines.

    I don’t think the terminology is that important – though there’s a logic to this hierarchy. I agree with your key concern – that if a brand seeks an expression that reflects its essence, benefits or attributes then it should be developed as part of the positioning and brand strategy, not as part of the creative execution. It is part of the brief, not part of the campaign.

  5. I second the idea…KEEP IT SHORT. Taglines are meant to be direct and memorable. I was behind a truck the other day whose company tagline was about 12 words long. I cannot remember it. It simply was too long to be effective.

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